Smoking: A Legal Weed Reading List

Aaron Gilbreath
8 min readOct 12, 2020

AP Photo/Richard Vogel

It’s always 420 somewhere, especially here in Portland, Oregon, where a cannabis dispensary seems to stand on every other corner. I smell weed while biking with my daughter through quiet residential neighborhoods. I smell weed while driving with my windows closed. I smell it at the food carts and on the clothes of college students whose papers I used to help revise at Portland State University. Last year I was skating a park around 8 am one morning, and I smelled weed. No one was walking a dog. No one was playing Frisbee golf. I swear the squirrels must have been blazing in the trees. It’s easy to feel like I’m part of a small minority of Portlanders who don’t get stoned. But legal cannabis is more than easy stoner jokes and giggly good times. Legalization is decriminalization, and that’s a very important distinction in a nation that both disproportionately incarcerates people of color for minor offences and clings to an ineffective, military battle approach to the social and health challenge of addiction. Weed is far less harmful than heroin and alcohol, but it can still be harmful when habitual. And arrests have ended too many lives.

In 2016, to celebrate Pennsylvania becoming the 24th US state to legalize medical marijuana, Longreads editor Cheri Lucas Rowlands compiled a marijuana reading list, called Weed Reeds. This list is an extension of that, featuring stories that have come out since other states decriminalized recreational and medical cannabis, and since advocates have started reframing marijuana as cannabis. Still, as serious as legalization is, people still puff, puff, puff on porches, pass the pipe at picnics, and drop tincture in their beers to lighten backyard parties. Legal weed ain’t all science and medicine. It’s a huge lucrative industry, and that makes for dramatic stories, personalities, and trouble.

“Grow Industry” (Nicholas Hune-Brown, The Walrus, March 12, 2013)

In 2013, when two U.S. states had legalized recreational marijuana, there were signs that Canada would end its nine-decade-long marijuana prohibition. People were wondering how to capitalize on this historic opportunity, to become, as The Walrus put it, ”the Seagrams of weed.”

There are certainly parallels. Like the

Aaron Gilbreath

Essayist, Journalist, Burritoist. Longreads Editor. Writing: Harper’s, NYT, Slate, Paris Review, VQR, Oxford American, Kenyon Review. 3 nonfiction books.